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Bloodsport Gambler - Review

Designer: Dillon Morton
Artist: Eric Radey
Publisher: Mirage Merchant
Player Count: 1 to 2 Players
Play Time: 30 to 90 Minutes

Fix the fight and place your wager—can you gamble your way out of debt in this high-stakes betting game? In this review of Bloodsport Gambler I overview how to play this forthcoming Kickstarter game and breakdown the brilliant balance achieved in the betting algorithm.

board game box cover of bloodsport gambler board game
Bloodsport Gambler box cover

Mirage Merchant’s Bloodsport Gambler is a betting game for one or two lucky players trying to correctly predict the winners of barbarous fights in order to pay off their debts. The game is set in the city of Ghoulmorrah, where pit fighting is a dangerous way to make a quick buck—but gambling on the outcomes of those fights may be even riskier.

Players must uncover what they can about the secret conditions of each fight, place wagers on their chosen champions, and then attempt to rig the outcomes of the fights in their favor all while evading notice of the guards. With some luck and a bit of strategy, players may just earn enough coins to pay back their loans. End up on the wrong side of the bookie’s ledger and players will be in some hot water with the Syndicate of Moneylenders that fronted their bet.


Setup begins by sorting fighter, weapon, and secret cards into separate decks. These will be used to populate the fighting pits each round. The players also shuffle and create a deck of actions cards, draw 6 of them, and take 6 time tokens; both actions and time are replenished back to 6 at the beginning of a new round. Players also begin with 16 coin and 3 chance tokens.

Then the fights are announced. Players draw two fighters and set them side by side faceup. These are the combatants of the fight. Each fighter has unique stats—strength, dexterity, and life—which determine their ability to deal and withstand blows from their opponent. The players draw two weapons and assign one randomly to each fighter; this is the weapon that fighter will use this round. Then the players draw a secret and place it in between the two fighters. Although the stats of the combatants are known, their weapons (including which of the fighter’s skills will be used, and how many wounds they will deal on a hit) and secrets are hidden until after bets are placed. This fight setup is repeated twice to generate three matches each round.

faceup cards depicting fights and facedown weapon, secret, and action cards organized in a typical gameplay arrangement
Fighter, secret, weapon, and action card components

Each fighter has a rank based on their stats—1 (novice warriors), 2, or 3 (veterans of the pits). These ranks are used to determine the odds of the fight as seen on the Betting Odds Table. Although there are no front-runners in fights between equally-ranked fighters, higher-ranked fighters are considered favorites over lower-ranked fighters (underdogs). The odds of each match regulate the amount of coin that players can wager and dictate the payout for a successful gamble.

Before placing bets, players can use actions to peak at facedown cards and lay the groundwork to fix the outcomes of each match in their favor. Discover actions allow a player to look at certain face down cards, while sabotage actions are played face down next to a target fighter to provide some boon or hindrance. They will be revealed and resolved when the fight takes place. Taking actions is all about gaining advantage for placing bets. Players are attempting to learn as much as they can about the hidden information in each fight and fix the match for a particular fighter and place better bets. Special actions can also provide the player with additional opportunities, often raising the stakes of wagers.

Actions usually bear some risk as the guards at the pits are on high alert for any tampering. Every action card has a risk value; the more potent the action, the greater the risk. The player of the action must roll (1d6) higher than the sum of the card’s risk and the current guard level for the action to resolve successfully; otherwise the guards are alerted to the players’ shenanigans (raising the guard level by 1), the action fails (all coin wagered on that fight is lost), and the player discards a random action from their hand. However, risk can be lowered by placing time and coin on the action when it is played. Players may also spend one of their three crucial chance tokens at any time to return the guard level back to 1.

After all secrets are scried and subversions are arranged, players can place bets on the fights, recording their selected champion and amount of coin they are wagering on their Betting Sheet. Players can bet up to three coin on each fight or the amount required by the Favorite Fighter Wager Table when backing a favorite fighter.

Once all wagers are made, the fights commence; weapons and secrets are flipped face up and any sabotage actions are resolved. Players roll 1d6 for each fighter and calculate any modifiers from relevant action cards, add the fighter’s stat specified by the weapon, and check any adjustment from the secret. The fighter with the higher number after all math is calculated will deal wounds to their opponent equal to the damage stat of their Weapon. This repeats until one of the fighters has taken more wounds than they have life. During the fights, players can play reactions to further sway the fight in their favor. These are especially important if things are not going according to plan!

card depicting Fighter of the Mirage and that fighters statistics
Zealot of the Mirage fighter card

If a player has successfully backed a victor, they will retain their original wager and collect winnings according to the Payout Table. Although winning a prudent bet on a favorite yields slight returns, successful wagers on underdogs will net a sizable ante—but will that be enough to satisfy the Syndicate of Moneylenders and make it to the next round? At the end of a round the player must complete at least one loan payment represented on their Loan reference card. To pay back a loan, each player must return 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, or 8 coin back to stock. Once the loan payment of a particular value has been made, that one cannot be made again.

If at the end of the round a player lacks the funds to make a payment, they must discard one of their remaining chance tokens. A player is defeated when they are short on cash (no more coin) and out of luck (no more Cchance tokens). However, if the player completes all loan payments, they have successfully climbed their way out of debt with the Syndicate and will consult the Victory Table to learn their fate (based on how much coin they still had).

loan payment plan cards with the loans for value five and seven completed
Loan Payment Plan cards


Solitary Bloodsport Gambler is smooth and can be played much quicker than duet. In fact, in solo play you can even cut a few corners and reduce some of the fiddleyness of manipulating components. For instance, without another player from whom to keep revealed information hidden, weapons and secrets revealed by discovery actions can simply be kept flipped up once revealed. sabotage action cards can also just be played face up next to the target fighter. Similarly, since there is no other player making bets, wagers can simply be placed on top of the fighter the player is backing—unless the player really wants to utilize the thematically-consistent Betting Sheet like I do.


Like any games where the roll of a die factors heavily into the outcomes of players’ actions, gambling games can be polarizing; many board gamers are exhilarated by leaving some gameplay results to chance, while others find that randomization to be antithetical to maintaining a coherent strategy. I tend to accord with the former and enjoy games that leave some of the difficult decision making to the fates, and have particularly liked games—like Camel Up and Oriflamme—that include wagering or betting against uncertain odds with secret or hidden factors.

There is a delicate balance in all games where wagering on a partially-randomized outcome with multiple hidden factors features as a core mechanism of gameplay. On one hand, if the equation of stats and modifiers that determines the outcome is too transparent, then players will be able to accurately predict outcomes and make such confident bets that the game itself becomes moot. On the other hand, if the outcome is overdependent on hidden, random factors the players may be agentless to engage in any meaningful game actions.

Bloodsport Gambler walks this line extremely well. Multiple, well-balanced elements (fighter stats, weapons, secrets, and actions) are all impacting each fight, practically eliminating any certainty in outcome. In other words, there is too much to account for to be certain of the outcome of any given fight. Additionally, although some actions and secrets are decidedly more powerful than others—like the Bedchamber Scorpion—none is completely deterministic. And despite all these variables to consider, players still have just enough capability to sway the outcomes of each fight to make net positive wagers viable, to be able to give an underdog some advantage to come out on top. In this way, the game strikes an incredible balance between challenging and achievable gambling. The refined equilibrium in the modifiers of the randomization in Bloodsport Gambler is commendable and not an easy feat to have achieved.

I played Bloodsport Gambler solo several times before trying the duet version with another player and was surprised that I enjoyed the multiplayer option more. Solitaire Bloodsport Gambler is a game of survival, where the player is trying to make ends meet just enough each round to pay off at least one loan to the Syndicate. Duet adds a social angle to gameplay—it is both cooperative (players try to beat the house and cash-in on lucrative wagers) and competitive (players thwart one another when backing different fighters).

Being able to play hidden sabotage actions and bet against one another leads to a dramatic subtextual level of play. Both players are sussing out information from the other, guessing what the other knows about each fight, and countering their opponent’s attempts to rig the outcome. Although the box lists only 1-2 players, I would really like to see how the game would work with 3, or even 4 or more players—each peaking at different hidden weapons and secrets, raising one another’s wagers, and resolving stacks of overlapping and counteractive sabotage actions. The potentially ridiculous, out-of-hand situations that would result would make Bloodsport Gambler feel more like a medium-weight party game … but would perhaps accurately reflect the ferocity and intensity of the Ghoulmorrah pits.

Fortune favors the bold in Bloodsport Gambler, but so do the Syndicates’ debt collectors. The pace of gameplay and the length of the game are determined by the recklessness of the bets placed by the gambler. The player can choose to place safe bets on clear favorites and use risky actions sparingly to carefully make back their coin. In this way, they likely won’t run afoul of the guards and they will probably be able to make a payment each round—although the higher loans may be tricky. But what’s the fun in that?

Alternatively, gamblers can go all in on underdogs and back up their bets with increasingly risky actions, playing loose with their few remaining coin. The audacious player may find themself with compounding returns on their wagers (and set up for a prosperous finish on the Victory Table), or in dire straits with the guards, the Syndicate, or both. Safe plays may offer a reliable path to victory, but make for a somewhat muted gameplay experience. Win or lose, I have found Bloodsport Gambler a great deal more exciting when placing generous bets and letting chance handle the rest.

a stack of yellow rounded wooden tokens
Coin tokens

No matter how free or frugal a player is with their bets, sometimes the roll of the dice does not go their way and a player loses all their coin. In these cases the game hits a dead end and the player may as well begin a new playthrough. Although resources like time and action cards are replenished from the stock each round, the only way to earn more coin is by winning bets (or playing the Clean Stables Action for a single coin). A player cannot wager on a fight without coin and cannot win more without a wager; so with zero coin, a player finds themself stuck in a pattern of turning in a chance token at the end of the round, yet unable to attain more coin to climb their way back. Basically, it assures the game ends in a loss.

I wonder if allowing a player to reopen a completed loan for some amount of coin would fix this inevitable game state? If the player could convince the Syndicate to give them another loan, they could conceivably keep the game going. Gameplay wise, this could be represented by reopening an already-completed loan on the Loan card but the player must pay double the stated amount when completing that loan again.

Bloodsport Gambler launches on Kickstarter September 5th. Mirage Merchant generously provided a copy of the game for this review.

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